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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Digital Camera: Inside the Classroom and Out

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

Do you use a digital camera in your classroom? I bet you have access to one, either one that the school owns, or your own. And I don't mean using it for special events like field trips or culminating activities, but really for the day-to-day. You see, I believe digital imagery in the classroom is an underused tool, and that there are some really easy and effective ways to step it up! Here, let me explain what I've been thinking.

As the son of a marine biologist and a zoologist growing up along the coast of Maine, I've always been fascinated by the ocean and the life that fills it. Snorkeling in Caribbean waters and watching its life has long been a favorite experience of mine (perhaps also because of growing up in Maine and experiencing some five decades of Maine winters), and I have been attempting to capture photographs of that special ecosystem for a long time.

My only success in the film-based efforts came not with the $150 underwater 35 mm camera I once bought, but rather with single-use waterproof 35 mm cameras. I have long since misplaced the negatives from the two pictures worth printing from three trips' worth of attempts -- gorgeous shots of green turtles calmly feeding along the bottom of Salt Pond Bay on the island of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands -- so you will just have to take my word for it.

But then I took digital below the surface! Last December, my wife and I returned to the sunny Caribbean in celebration of our twentieth wedding anniversary, and I took along an underwater case for my Canon s410. The results, if I say so myself, were stunning. In these 4-megapixel images, a green moray eel is only partially hidden by a waving purple sea fan as it peeks out of its reef home, an octopus flares opal blue-green in warning before sliding back into the safety of its nest, and turtles stroke gently toward the surface and air before more feeding on the turtle grass meadows below. Ah, the turtles . . .

I remember being told of a famous nature photographer once having been asked how he was able to get such fantastic pictures. His response was quite simple: He took many, many pictures and occasionally found a gem or two tucked away alongside the junk.

That is what underwater digital photography has done for me. It is not unusual to come back from a long snorkel with fifty or more images, and for me to sit in the relative comfort of our tent cabin and cull that number down to fifteen or so worth holding on to. Not all gems, but reasonably high quality.

So, there you have it. My advice is to first take pictures. Lots of them! And it doesn't have to be you behind the camera. How about inviting some former students back into the classroom to collect images, or asking a parent volunteer to do the same? What if you were to hand the camera to the principal and ask her or him to collect a few snappers to add to your collection? The result in every instance would be unique contributions -- focused and framed as a result of each photographer's perspective -- of life in your classroom.

I know that you will find a host of uses for the images you collect, but do carefully mine them for your own gems -- that image that just captures one child's fascination with a favorite book, the way morning light fills the science corner, or your look of humane exhaustion at the end of yet another day of exhilaration and exasperation!

Use these images as writing prompts or frame them and hang them on your walls. Insert them into the newsletter, and burn a collection of them to a CD at the end of the year and create a digital memory book that families will cherish forever. Take a look at the images I've attached, and understand that I am a persistent photographer and not a gifted one. I simply collected a bunch of images, and happened to get some good ones. Trust me, you can, too!

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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Susan Cornett's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I have found that when I first take out the camera, the people are self-consciuous, but once they get used to it, they forget about it, and then you cna get really good shots! This is especially true in the classroom.
Mildred Serra's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I really agree with the author Jin Moulton about the use of digital cameras in the classroom. I have just started to use it. I took a workshop which gave me some ideas, he is right we underuse it. I amplanning to use it more next scchool year. I got a book that has tips and tricks for using digital phptography fron Teachers Created Resources. Hearing from others gives you new and fresh ideas that bring other ideas forth.
Carolyn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I'd love for people to share some of those ideas for using in the classroom. In keyboarding, I can take pictures of students exhibiting good technique. I'm working on what I can do for computer applications. I do take pictures of all my students for pictorial seating charts (I usually see their backs, so this helps me learn names faster...important since I have them for only 9 weeks!).
Carolyn Stanley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I had the honor of meeting Mr. Moulton at a CECA conference a couple of years ago. I grew up in Maine, and although I've been in CT for 37 plus years, Maine is still "home." I was never much into photography until digital cameras came on the scene. I am a computer technology teacher/facilitator at a middle school in CT, and my first experience was with a Mavica that saved to a floppy disk. How far digital cameras have advanced from those early days! I am currently using a 5.0 megapixel Canon with a 12x optical zoom. I have a 1Gb SD card, and I "shoot with abandon." That way, if I shoot 150 or 200 shots at an event, I am sure to get at least 70 or 80 really good ones. I record all of the school events and use a really old program, Kai's Power Show, to put them into neat slide shows with transitions. I encourage my students to use their cameras and to come after school to open their pics in PhotoShop and play around with digital manipulation. I look forward to helping teachers integrate digital photography into their curriculum projects. It's a really wonderful, inexpensive way to record what is going on around us.
Cheryl Turlin, Kansas City,  MO's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I find that names leave my brain as soon as they are said. After about ten times or so they stay with me. Now I take pictures of my students doing things they like to do and put their names into the pictures as a part of the titles. It helps me a great deal and they get to enjoy my photo id wall.
Sr. Karen Dolovacky's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I agree about the use of digital photography. I use it to show lab set-ups as a pre-lab. I also take pictures in lab, and then post them in the lab. Students love looking at their own pictures and so do others at Open House time, etc. I absolutely love the fact that I can get rid of ones that don't turn out and only spend money printing ones that are good.
Walt Punke's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Excellent beginning suggestions for a tested and valid approach to student achievement and mastery for most disciplines. Focusing on core subject benchmarks and standards, hands-on activities, lesson plans are readily available for integrating technology to enhance learning. Digital still and video photography can be incorporarated as essential and beneficial aspects in the delivery of units and daily lessons. The growing emphasis on project-based learning accentuates applications for digital photography as an integral instructional tool. Daily verification of progress, product or project development, portfolio documentation of mastery and assesment validation are among starters. From claymation to product generation, digital photography is an ideal educational tool when empowering students in the entire process!
Roxanne Karr's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I totally agree - a digital camera is wonderful to use in your classroom throughout the year. I am the computer tech for kindergarten through sixth grade, and we use the digital camera for everything from field trips to class plays to a special sixth grade PowerPoint slide show that we do every year to celebrate the sixth graders moving on to the middle school. Thank you for promoting an excellent way to integrate technology into the classroom!

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